My nephew Kendall is 7 years old and very bright. He loves playing sports, but he had issues with schoolwork and his behavior during first grade. Kendall doesn’t have any identifiable learning disabilities, so it was baffling that he wasn’t thriving in a public school classroom environment. To help him, he was placed in a private school offering him a classroom size of just six students, blackboards (yes, the old-school chalk blackboards) and old-school wooden desks—the type you might see on a rerun of the show Facts of Life. His new learning environment is very basic.
After one month, Kendall logged all “A” grades and is engaging in all activities. It turns out, my nephew is just a different type of learner and getting back to education basics was all he needed. No smart boards, laptops, or tablets to muddy the learning waters.
Simplicity and taking a step back is helping my nephew thrive in school. When I look at some established businesses, I’ve noticed that getting back to basics and taking a step back from the “bells and whistles” of running a business in the digital age can be reinvigorating and can make your business grow.
Losing Sight of What Matters
Today’s business owners are so caught up (and likely overwhelmed) with leveraging social media and online marketing platforms that they have lost sight of what REALLY matters. Remember, it’s not just about getting likes on your Facebook page—it’s about getting people to BUY whatever it is you are selling. People make a purchase not because a business has 20K likes or followers, it’s because they trust what a business sells. Most importantly, there is no social media platform that serves as a substitute for maintaining a stellar competitive advantage.
Recently, I advised Chef Christy Jones*, the owner of a restaurant located in a suburban town in New Jersey for over 15 years. As a classically trained chef, she opened her 70-seat farm-to-table restaurant to much fanfare and anticipation, having worked at noted restaurants in her region. Her local fame afforded her a steady flow of patrons eager to consume her culinary creations. She opened with only one other restaurant nearby—today there are 14. She was the first in her market to boast a farm-to-table menu, now her competitors promote similar offerings. Chef Christy has now lost her market share and is not seeing many new customers.
Chef Christy shared with me how she tries to use social to win new business by posting information about her menu specials—with limited results. After getting a few more details, I learned that many of her competitors in town were not owned and operated by chefs. In fact, many of the eateries were started by food industry novices.
As I walked around her restaurant, I recognized some underutilized competitive advantages such as desirable outdoor eating space, on-site parking, and walk-by traffic. The large glass windows out front were also not being used effectively. Nowhere on property or menus does it say the restaurant is owned and operated by a chef. As I continued chatting and walking around, I figured out where Chef Christy’s challenges stem from—it’s her. She has lost sight of why she opened her restaurant. But most of all, she has become complacent and now takes her experience and reputation for granted.
Complacency will kill any business. Chef Christy’s original competitive advantage was and still is that she is a noted, trained chef—yet she is doing nothing to maximize it. Like many business owners, Chef Christy needs to get back to business basics to regain her competitive advantage.
Getting Back to Basics – The One Thing You Must Do
Your business is a moving target, but being focused helps you hit your target. Getting back to basics means focusing on what made you a success in the first place and using it to reignite your business. Here are some growth strategies any business can implement to get back to basics:
- Talk to Your Customers – Before there was Yelp! and Google Reviews, entrepreneurs would actually speak with their customers to find out what they liked and didn’t like. What a concept! Your regular customers and clients may never post a review, but they know your business the best. Speak with them to find out what they want, like, and dislike and then tailor your offerings to them.
- Leverage Your Competitive Advantage – It’s been a while since you opened, but what made your business shine then is likely still the same or better. If you have a unique offering or reputation, use it to remind old customers and gain new ones. For example, I advised Chef Christy to add elegant lettering in her window stating “Owned and Operated by Executive Chef Christy Jones” to assist passersby in discerning between the restaurants operated by non-chefs.
- Upsell, Upsell, Upsell – The easiest way to increase sales is to upsell to your existing clientele. Research conducted with established businesses by marketing analytics firm SumAll found that repeat customers are the foundation upon which profitable businesses are built. The data also revealed when businesses have 40% repeat customers they generated 47% more revenue than similar businesses with only 10% repeat customers.
- Adapt and Change – Perhaps some of your longstanding approaches are stale. Be willing to change with the times. Getting back to basics should include innovation. Revisit how you made magic in your business when you first started to reinvent some of your services and projects.
If you feel like you’ve been running on a hamster wheel for a while, it is probably time to get back to basics. Rediscover what made you a success early on and most importantly stop chasing what you don’t have and nurture your existing customer base to reach your revenue goals.
* The name of the chef has been changed to protect her identity.